The Changing Politics of Faith and Infidelity

  • R. W. Johnson


In the wake of the 1965 presidential election the French political scientist Michel Brulé analysed the electorates of De Gaulle and Mitterrand to see how far the traditionally powerful variable of religious practice had played any role in this climactic battle between Right and Left. His conclusions came as a considerable shock:

the best sociological explanation of French people’s electoral choice last December 5 is provided by their religious situation — defined both in terms of their beliefs and their degree of religious practice — rather than by their membership of an age or occupational group or by their sex. In a society which takes pleasure in emphasising everything that differentiates it from its own past, the persistence of such a deep and traditional cleavage as this at the political level deserves to be thrown into sharp relief.1


Religious Practice French Society Municipal Election Class Cleavage Vatican Council 
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  1. 1.
    M. Brulé, ‘L’Appartenance Réligieuse et le Vote du 5 décembre 1965’, Sondages, XXVIII (1966) 2, pp. 15–19.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    G. Michelat and M. Simon, Classe, Religion et Comportement Politique (Paris: 1977) p. 377.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    It also produced a number of valuable and more detailed studies. See, in particular, M. Dogan, ‘Une Analyse de Covariance en Sociologie Électorale’, Revue Française de Sociologie, 9, 4 (1968) pp. 537–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    E. Aver et al., Pratique Réligieuse et Comportement Électoral’, Archives de Sociologie des Réligions, 29 (1970) pp. 27–52;Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    F. Isambert, ‘Signification de Quelques Correspondances Empiriques entre Comportements Politiques et Réligieux’, Archives de Sociologie des Réligions, 33 (1971) pp. 49–70; and, above all, the work of Michelat and Simon cited above.Google Scholar
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    The percentage of children attending church schools fell from 20 per cent in 1959 to 17 per cent in 1964 to 15 per cent in 1973: J. Ardagh, The New France (London: 1970) p. 567; Le Monde, 6 November 1973.Google Scholar
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    Cited by R. Rémond, ‘Forces Réligieuses et Participation Politique’, in R. Rémond (ed.), Forces Réligieuses et Attitudes Politiques dans la France Contemporaine (Paris: 1965) p. 77.Google Scholar
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    R. Rémond, Les Catholiques et les Elections (Paris: 1960) pp. 99–100.Google Scholar
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    See his contribution to M. Duverger et al. (eds), Les Elections du 2 janvier 1956 (Paris: 1957).Google Scholar
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    Lijphart’s figures show indices of +15 for class voting and +59 for religious voting — compared to +37 and -1 for Britain (1959): A. Lijphart, Class Voting and Religious Voting in the European Democracies (University of Strathclyde Survey Research Centre: Occasional Paper no. 8, 1971) pp. 8, 20.Google Scholar
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    Ironically, two editions of the same book — D. Butler and D. Stokes, Political Change in Britain — best reflect this tum-around. In the first edition (London: 1969) there is heavy stress on the fundamental strength of the class alignment; in the second edition (London: 1973)the stress is on the aging and erosion of this alignment.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    CERES was not, though, the wholly Catholic affair it was often depicted as. A survey of delegates to the 1973 PS Grenoble Congress found that 16.8 per cent of CERES delegates were practising Catholics, compared with 9.8 per cent of mainstream (Mitterrandiste) delegates. E. Feuilloux, ‘40 Ans de ‘Main Tendue’ et Ceux Quil’ont Prise’, Autrement, no. 8 (February 1977) p. 100.Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    J. Charlot, ‘La Gauche Ne Séduit Plus les Catholiques’ Le Point, no. 280, 30 January 1978, p. 38.Google Scholar
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    Julliard, ‘Comment les Français ont Changé de Cap Le Dernier Jour’, Le Nouvel Observateur, 24 April 1978.Google Scholar
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    W. Bosworth, Catholicism and Crisis in Modern France. French Catholic Groups at the Threshold of the Fifth Republic (Princeton: 1962) p. 329.Google Scholar
  16. 30.
    M. Dogan, ‘Political Cleavage and Social Stratification in France and Italy’, in S. M. Lipset and S. Rokkan (eds), Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives(New York: 1967) p. 163. The average could have been higher than 40 per cent, given the predominance of women in the overall population.Google Scholar
  17. 32.
    For comparable British data, for example, see R. Currie and A. Gilbert, Churches and Churchgoers (London: 1978). British Catholicism suffered as heavily as its French counterpart A. E. Spencer, writing in the Jesuit journal, The Month (April 1975), estimated a drop-out rate of 250,000 per annum in 1965–71 from a Catholic population of only 7 million.Google Scholar
  18. British Catholicism suffered as heavily as its French counterpart A. E. Spencer, writing in the Jesuit journal, The Month (April 1975), estimated a drop-out rate of 250,000 per annum in 1965–71 from a Catholic population of only 7 million.Google Scholar
  19. 40.
    A. Woodrow, ‘Prêtres de Campagne et Campagne sans Prêtres’, Le Monde, 16 August 1978.Google Scholar

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© R. W. Johnson 1981

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  • R. W. Johnson

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